The world famous ‘chikan’ craft or ‘chikankari’, synonymous with the rich heritage of Lucknow or Oudh, has always failed to figure in the discourse of political parties, both national and regional, even as the state capital gears up to witness polling in the fifth phase of Lok Sabha elections 2019 on Monday.
Nearly half a million artisans, mostly women belonging to the poor and deprived sections are associated with the craft, generating estimated revenues of about Rs 500 crore in wages paid alone. Although, the craft plays an important role in the socioeconomic matrix of the state capital, especially the minority community inhabiting the Old City areas, yet chikan has never been included in manifestos.
Handmade chikan industry is highly fragmented and is facing challenges owing to insufficient market information on export trends, opportunities, scarcity of raw material, lack of financing and competition from mill and factory products.
Over the last decade, the traditional ‘chikankari’ craft has been facing challenge from China-made chikan, which is about 50% and has a shorter production time-span, thus higher margins.
Due to the rising competition from Chinese Chikan, the livelihood of about half-million people associated with unorganised Chikan industry in and around Lucknow was in peril, an earlier study conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) had warned.
“Lucknow is known not only for Chikan but other fine arts too, which need to be promoted, but are neglected, such as ‘aari zardozi’ and ‘mukaish’ (fine embroidery), which are on the verge of extinction. At least, Chikankari has been included in the Geographical Indication (GI) Act and is protected for the intellectual property,” Nawab Jafar Mir Abdullah, a member of the erstwhile rulers of the Awadh or Oudh Province, told Business Standard.
“It is a pity that the wholesalers and big traders continue to make profits, while the artisans, who are not organised and do not have a voice, get a pittance for their labour and artisanship,” he lamented.
Abdullah, whose family is associated with the promotion and preservation of chikankari and other Lucknow fine arts, claimed that while exporters and traders made profits, artisans were paid only about Rs 50 a day.
Noted Oudh historian Ravi Bhatt observed that the issue of chikankari and chikan artisans was never raised by people associated with the craft, since they were actually the middlemen, who benefitted most at the expense of artisans.
“If the issue of Chikankari was to be included in the political manifesto of parties, then the issue of minimum wage to these skilled workers would be raised, thus prospectively cutting into the profit margins of Chikan traders and middlemen,” he added while also slamming the political parties and leaders for displaying ignorance of local heritage.
He said that there were two theories pertaining to the advent of chikankari. “While, one theory is that it came to Lucknow from Murshidabad, West Bengal, another theory is that it arrived from Iran (Persia). Nonetheless, the fabric craft attained finery and sophistication in Lucknow or Oudh,” Bhatt added.
In its report, ASSOCHAM had also suggested creating awareness about chikankari through promotional tools like brand building, road shows and festivals. The government facilitation for creation of niche markets for chikan products, opening showrooms and warehouses in target countries according to the market size and import value were offered as suggestions to improve the export of Chikan.
The government, in partnership with private sector, should encourage development of integrated enterprise by providing support such as centres for skill training, product adaptation, vocational training and entrepreneurship development, the industry body had suggested.
Meanwhile, Lucknow and 13 other parliamentary constituencies in eastern and central Uttar Pradesh will witness polling in the 5th phase on May 6. Other constituencies are Amethi, Rae Bareli, Sitapur, Faizabad (Ayodhya), Gonda, Banda, etc.